Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fog flowers

A remote trail at Tettegouche. A hillside in Duluth. Bound by flowers and the fog.

Most folks call it Bluebells. North Shore naturalists call it Tall Lungwort. It's not even in my Peterson's wildflower book. It's Lake Superior's own Mertensia paniculata. And it's blooming...a few weeks earlier than normal, thanks to this topsy-turvy spring.

In the course of two days, I found patches of Mertensia on the Piedmont ski trail (top) and in Tettegouche State Park (above). Both places have in common the fact that they are close to big, cold and wet Lake Superior. This wildflower belong to the lake. It needs the cool, moist air. Mertensia paniculata grows all around Lake Superior, and also on the cool, moist western slopes of the Northern Rockies....but nowhere in between.

If it's foggy because of the lake, that's the lair of the lungwort. When you see those dangly blue flowers and the pointed leaves, you know it's the North Shore.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I heard it was hot

They say that the warmest place in the US yesterday was Minnesota. All day long, the folks on the radio were talking about how hot it was. 93 degrees in Saint Paul. 97 degrees in Cambridge.

How bizarre to bundle up while listening to a weather report like that.

Here in Duluth, on the shores of Lake Superior, we topped out at 58 degrees. That hot moist air that has covered the state met the cold waters of the big lake and WHAMMO, instant fog, goodbye sunshine.

It was so foggy that the shrubs and trees along the lake were wringing the moisture out of the fog and it was virtually raining underneath them. I took the dog out to the lighthouse and shot a short video to capture the sound of the foghorn.

It's still pea soup out there today. The South Pier foghorn is still blowing away. The boats out in the lake were sounding too, every minute per regulations. We are under a "dense fog warning" from the National Weather Service. 50 degrees here right now, 70 in Minneapolis.

Good old Lake Superior.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Advice from a trillium: Go big or go home

I went for a short hike on the Superior Hiking Trail the other day. It was my birthday, and maybe I was feeling contemplative or open to new ideas. Who'd have thought a woodland wildflower would give me advice.

We're past the first flush of those little spring wildflowers like violets, bunchberry or anemone. Those flowers are cute as a button and a wonderful surprise to the spring hiker.

As the trees get all their leaves and the forest floor becomes fully in the shade, flowers and their leaves need to go big. Big leaves bring in more sunlight for photosynthesis. Big flowers attract pollinators.

There aren't many bigger flowers in the North Woods than the Large-Flowered Trillium.

Go big or go home. The Urban Dictionary explains that means, "be extravagant, to go all the way, and do whatever you are doing to its fullest - and not flake out.

It can be even be texted: gbgh!

So now I'm 46 years old. If there's ever a time to go big, it's now.

Watch out world!

Thanks for the advice, you robust wildflower!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Superior spring, summer sensations

Mid-May, and it feels like summer on Lake Superior. Last night the sailboats were out for their first Wednesday night race of the season. The Keel Club very thoughtfully put one of their main race buoys right off our house, so we get to see the races up close.

Much to my surprise, people were swimming in the lake as well. Swimming, dunking, not just running in and running out screaming.

Puffs of cool lake breezes contended with strong, warm southerly air all day. For the first time this year, it smelled like summer, both the cool blue smells of Lake Superior and the earthy air masses from Wisconsin and the harbor.

Summer is a'coming in!


No sooner did I post this than good old Lake Superior kicked it up. No more pleasant lakeshore ripples or stalled sailboats. The temp just dropped 15 degrees in a few minutes.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More trouble on the trail

After warning readers yesterday about an unnamed hypabyssmal intrusion on the Superior Hiking Trail, I would be remiss not to warn you about trees that eat hikers. Thanks to long-time blog follower Ovidia for this photo. Although it's not known where the picture was taken, the phenomenon of trees eating hiking signs is not a one-time occurrence.

Check out these other examples.

You have to be careful out there!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Caution! Unnamed hypabyssal intrusion on the SHT

Hikers on the Superior Hiking Trail should be very very careful. There is an unnamed hypabyssal intrusion on the trail.

This intrusion was discovered on a recently published geologic map of the Crow Creek area.

The SHT runs west from the Castle Danger trailhead and descends right into the steep valley of Crow Creek. The unnamed intrusion is marked on the map with a thick blue line and the letters "db".

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Poem for the Lift Bridge: Boat unnah hum

I caught the Great Lakes' largest boat, the Paul Tregurtha, coming through Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge yesterday afternoon. Our neighbor was there too, with her toddler Piper. "We love these boats," she said in that first-person plural parents of speechless toddlers use.

Watch out when these young boat fans start to talk for themselves. Our older son at age 2 loved to tell and retell the whole story of a boat going under the bridge, sound effects and all.

The Lift Bridge, to our toddlers who rode cars over it, was known as "the Hum Bridge" for the distinct sound of tires on metal grates. "Unnah" was "under." To ride in the stroller under a tree was to go "Unnah Doe."

Here's his recitation:

Boat unnah hum

Honk! Honk!

Ding Ding Ding.

Up up up up.

Boat unnah hum.

Man, those were the days! Now we can hardly get him to tell us anything, even with sound effects.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Surfing and snowing, all in a May Day

Only in Duluth—or maybe Alaska—will you find surfers out riding the swells after the May. Check out the patches of white up on the hillside, above the white crest of the surf.

Duluth got more snow last Friday than in all of March and April combined. It wasn't enough to pull my cross-country skis out of the attic, I'm not that desperate. But it's a reminder that we're here near the northern edge of urban civilization. Any snowier or surfier than this and it's a Bering Sea outpost.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A North Shore mother looks to sea

The newspapers only knew her as “Mrs. Olson” of Two Harbors. Though her name may have been common, her suffering at the hands of Lake Superior was poignant and rare.

Her men were fishermen, and even before coming to the United States she had lost her husband, drowned off the coast of Sweden. One of her sons, John had drowned April 1910 in Grand Marais on his way to Isle Royale.

Now, in April 1911 her other son, Otto, was off to Isle Royale in the same boat. And there was no word from him; he was missing off the North Shore.

In the 1900s and early 1910s on the North Shore, information only traveled as fast as the boat, dogsled or runner bearing the letter. Telephone lines weren't in yet between Duluth, Two Harbors and Grand Marais. The Booth Line’s steamer Easton was the main link North Shore communities had with each other and with the world. Imagine Mrs. Olson waiting for news of her son.

One can only imagine Mrs. Olson’s dread as days stretched into weeks without word. Radios were only recently introduced to Lake Superior’s larger ships, and smaller boats seldom had them. The steamer Easton had made two of its regular trips between Duluth and Isle Royale to collect the fish from the dozens of Island fishermen, and had seen no sign of the Olson party.

On April 14, 1911 the Duluth News-Tribune ran the headline “FISHERMEN ARE PROBABLY LOST ON NORTHSHORE.” The article explains that since the time the party left Grand Marais, “a strong wind has been blowing almost continuously from the northeast, and is considered by old sailors here more than probable that the small launch has been swamped and all aboard perished.”

But April 14 was also the day the Easton returned to Two Harbors from Isle Royale on its next trip, with news and mail from the island in addition to its load of fish.

The Easton carried a letter written a few days before by her son Otto. After leaving Grand Marais, the crew had stopped at Grand Portage and then reached the Susie Islands. The wind was so strong that they dared not make the fifteen-mile crossing to Isle Royale. They had “held” at Susie Island for four nights, waiting for the wind to drop.

Mrs. Olson: wife and mother of men who fish.

Although Mrs. Olson was no doubt very happy that day, I wish a much MUCH happier Mother's Day to all this year!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All those waterfalls, going to waste

I came across this image from a 1913 edition of the Duluth News Tribune today. Note the incredible caption, about this beautiful waterfalls and its 75,000 horsepower "going to waste."

The relevant part of the article reads:

"Within the very lap of Tofte there is 125,000 electrical horse power undeveloped. Temperance River Falls, three miles west, that has 75,000 horsepower, owned by Fletcher Brothers of Minneapolis, who signify an intention of developing it for operating pulp mills and for furnishing electrical lighting for Tofte. Then there are the Cascade Falls just east of Tofte that has 50,000 horsepower going to waste. Both of these falls should be harnassed and made to do their share in the work of developing the natural resources of this section of Cook county. With the dawn of the railroad era the Duluth & Northern Minnesota, that cuts through the center of the county and the building of the new line, Grand Marais & Northwestern, tapping the forest wealth, iron ranges and the rich leaf mould agricultural soil tributary to the north shore, we doubt not but what both of these water falls will be put into commission in the very near future."

Imagine a narrow reservoir with a tall plug of a dam right where we look into Temperance's Hidden Falls today. Imagine a major industrial site right where the Temperance campground is now, still cranking out paper. Really, imagine the Ontario town of Terrace Bay and its dam on the Aguasabon River. I like Terrace Bay. A very nice dentist there helped me get past a really bad toothache once. But I like Temperance as it is even more.

The Grand Marais & Northwestern Railroad never came to be. Five years after this article was published, the Duluth and Northern Minnesota railroad announced in the same paper it was pulling up miles of its track in Cook County. The "forest wealth" had already been tapped. The pulp business consolidated in other places, and the local pulpwood that would have been pounded with the power of the Temperance went by raft across the lake.

Rather than a dam at Temperance, the CCC built stone overlooks. In 1957, the state park was created.

Those waterfalls at Temperance aren't wasted. They add value to our lives everytime we see or even think of them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Welcome back, Moab Man

Last February we had a bad car accident here in Duluth. We were all packed up for a week in Ely and headed out of town when a woman ran a red light in downtown and t-boned our Honda CRV. Almost three months later, we're still nursing some injuries. One of the sadder parts of the whole thing was losing the car and its memories, including the sticker of the Moab Man pictograph.

At least one part of our recovery is complete. After wrassling with the insurance agency over the value of the old car, we bought a new (used) CRV in Phoenix. Same year, a few less miles. I drove the new car back from Phoenix via Moab. I hiked around Comb Ridge, in the Fiery Furnace in Arches and a new trail in Canyonlands. Three years to the day after buying my last Moab Man sticker, I found another one in the same store.

The sticker had to be a different color though. Like most Arizona cars, the new CRV is white.

Putting that new sticker on was a small step to recovering our lives. It felt great.